Keep smiling and you may feel healthier too
Date published: 24 May 2012
Studies into smiling, laughter and generally feeling happy suggest they can have a positive effect on your physical and mental health.
The nation’s annual reminder about the importance of maintaining good oral health, National Smile Month, kicked off on Sunday. With around a third of adults and children in the UK still suffering from preventable tooth decay, and around ten million people admitting they only brush their teeth once-a-day, the UK still has much to do to improve its oral health habits.
But the simple act of smiling and laughter may also have other hidden health benefits. The scientific study of the effects of laughter – called Gelotology – can be traced back to the 1960s and has regularly pointed to positive mental and physical health benefits associated with being happy.
Clinical studies by some researchers3 have confirmed that the body changes when people laugh. The pituitary gland releases its own opiates, which suppress pain; the production of immune cells increases and the levels of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which are chronically high when an individual is under long-term stress and which suppress the immune system are reduced dramatically. At the same time, healthy hormones such as endorphins and neurotransmitters are increased.
Laughter also provides a physical workout for stomach muscles, the diaphragm, and even the heart. Some researchers also theorise that smiling and laughter improves mental performance by accelerating the heartbeat, helping to increase the oxygen supply to the brain4.
Conversely, official UK statistics show that poor oral health is known to adversely affect the behaviour of around a third of UK adults5.
One in ten people have trouble relaxing; six per cent report emotional instability and four per cent of people say they have problems going out as a result of their oral health problems. Even around one in seven people (15 per cent) say they have trouble smiling and over a fifth of the UK adults have difficulties when eating.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “National Smile Month is an important reminder to everyone in the UK about their oral health. Unfortunately, many people are unhappy with their smiles often caused by poor oral hygiene over the years.
“Poor oral health can be both physically painful and psychologically damaging. It can affect self-confidence, image and even how we are perceived by other people. From the many interesting studies into laughter millions of people may also be missing out on the positive benefits of smiling and having fun. National Smile Month is the ideal time to review your oral health routine and make sure you’re not putting your smile at risk.”
National Smile Month is being supported by a record number of sponsors in 2012 including Wrigley, Listerine, Oral-B, Steradent, Aldi, Argos, Bupa, Dencover, Denplan, Lloyds Pharmacy, SaveWaterSaveMoney, SleepRight, Smile-on and Wilkinson. The campaign encourages everyone to brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste; cut down on how often they have sugary foods and drinks; and to visit their dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.
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